A remote hotel near Anakao on Madagascar’s west coast, reached by boat speeding between shore and reef; distant hump-backed whales flashing their flukes as they dive. In front of my thatched bungalow a pristine white sand beach strewn with seashells; behind it, a tract of spiny forest rich in bird and lizard-life. Offshore, square-sailed fishing pirogues skim across the sea. A coral island, Nosy Ve, is home to tame red-tailed tropic birds. In the evening, find buckets of cold water for bathing, delivered to your door from a water tower guarded by a pair of Madagascar kestrels. If you prefer hot water, collect it from the kitchen - it’s infused with a fragrant bark. A fine supper using locally sourced food - fresh fish, fruit and vegetables. A cocktail in hand as the deep gold sun sets.
How was your Explore Tour Leader?
He seemed very well (joke). Seriously, Hery was charming, employing his diplomatic background to the full while unobtrusively doing a job which, at times, must be acutely frustrating. An honest introduction to a fascinating country. It was an absolute pleasure to travel with him.
What tips would you give to someone else booking this tour?
"Take warm clothes, waterproofs, boots. September in Antsirabe was cold and wet.
Take cold clothes, suntan lotion, hat and sandals. September in Anakao was hot and very dry. Keep an open mind. There's much more to Madagascar than lemurs - it's not quite like David Attenborough portrayed it. Don't worry about snakes - none are poisonous. Try speaking to Malagasy people - my 1960s 'O' level French was just about adequate for a simple exchange. Buy stuff from hawkers on the streets - a string of ropy beads you don't really want, a piece of embroidery, a polished stone or a scruffy postcard from a kid will cost you very little - but mean a lot. They don't do as well as the stall holders in markets, but they are not begging. "
Do you have anything else to add?
This was a very long journey, and tiring. Madagascar has huge environmental problems, the people are very poor. It took me a few weeks on my return to realise what a remarkable experience I had had, for unexpected reasons.